GIF creator Stephen Wilhite dies at 74

Stephen Wilhite, a laptop programmer who invented the GIF, the humble but multipurpose file format that became an Online mainstay, aiding folks share charts, images and viral animations — including one particular of Mr. Wilhite’s own favorites, a looping impression of a dancing newborn — died March 14 at a medical center in Cincinnati. He was 74.

The result in was covid-19, said his wife, Kathaleen Wilhite.

Mr. Wilhite was performing at CompuServe, the nation’s very first massive on the web services service provider, when he developed the Graphics Interchange Format in 1987, a couple several years ahead of the advent of the Environment Broad World-wide-web. The company’s main specialized officer, Alexander “Sandy” Trevor, had enlisted him to make an impression file structure that used lossless compression and could work across an array of computer system techniques, enabling customers to share photos, stock charts, temperature maps and other documents across the slow communication strains of the dial-up age, regardless of whether or not they were being working with an Apple, Atari, Commodore, IBM or Tandy personal computer.

Within a month or so, Mr. Wilhite had established the to start with GIF, a photograph of an plane. Right now the file format is ordinarily employed for looped videos or animations, which populate social media and office Slack channels and provide as a pop lifestyle shorthand — a fast, wordless way to express emotions like pleasure (Brad Pitt dancing in “Burn Immediately after Reading”), shame (Homer Simpson retreating backward into a hedge), enjoyment (Michael Jackson having popcorn) or approval (a bearded Robert Redford in “Jeremiah Johnson,” nodding with a smile as the digicam zooms in).

The GIF “caught on quite fast with builders,” Trevor recalled in a mobile phone interview, incorporating that Mr. Wilhite “was the architect of GIF, no question about it.” He said that while the file format was not at first designed for animation, Mr. Wilhite experienced made the GIF so that it could be stretched and prolonged, assisting to convert it into an animated medium. The format endured even after the generation of rivals these as PNG, and turned ubiquitous with the advent of Netscape and other Internet browsers, with “Under Construction” GIFs populating new internet websites and animated GIFs popping up on Myspace web pages in the early 2000s.

By 2012, when Oxford Dictionaries named GIF the U.S. phrase of the calendar year, the time period was getting employed as a verb, not just as a noun. The term had also sparked a intense debate around its pronunciation, which the magazine Mom Jones at the time explained as “the most absurd religious war in geek history”: Was it a smooth g like Jif, the peanut butter brand name? Or a really hard g, as in “gift?”

Mr. Wilhite weighed in on the difficulty in 2013, shortly prior to he was awarded a Life time Achievement Webby Award for his invention. “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts each pronunciations,” he told the New York Occasions. “They are erroneous. It is a gentle ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ Close of tale.”

Stephen Earl Wilhite was born in West Chester Township, Ohio, on March 3, 1948. At age 17, he was shot in the facial area all through a reenactment of a Civil War raid at a town sesquicentennial celebration, where by just one actor apparently used a true bullet in its place of a blank cartridge. Mr. Wilhite was hospitalized for about 6 months but went on to graduate from high college as a single of the state’s “10 top science learners,” in accordance to an Involved Push report about his recovery.

He examined laptop or computer science and engineering at Ohio Point out University prior to becoming a member of CompuServe, shortly right after the business was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. In addition to generating the GIF, he created compilers and created the architecture for the company’s shopper-server environment, which Trevor described as a variety of precursor to Net browsers. “Personally I consider that was his greatest accomplishment,” he mentioned. “CompuServe finished up with possibly 2 million subscribers, and we would not have something like that without” Mr. Wilhite’s application operate.

In addition to his wife of 12 decades, the previous Kathaleen Bauer, survivors incorporate a son, David, from an before relationship that ended in divorce 4 stepchildren, Rick Groves, Robin Landrum, Renée Bennett and Rebecca Boaz 4 sisters 11 grandchildren and a few terrific-grandchildren.

Mr. Wilhite remained at CompuServe right after its online products and services branch was bought to AOL, and retired just after struggling a stroke in 2000. He stored active by going on months-lengthy RV outings and increasing his model teach selection, which occupied an total home at the region home he designed in Milford, Ohio. For yrs, he also rode filth bikes, in some cases scary friends who saw him racing up grime hills and pathways.

As Trevor told it, Mr. Wilhite had as soon as appreciated using up a steep hill around Mansfield, Ohio, where he would fly about the leading and race down the other side. On a person these types of experience, he made a decision to cease at the summit relatively than proceed on, only to realize as he braked that the much aspect of the hill experienced been “dug out,” as Trevor place it.

“If he had just kept heading, he would have gone right more than the edge and there would have been no GIF.”